William Blewit d. 1726

Audacious Criminal and Member of Burnworth's Gang

A juvenile thief who was transported, William Blewitt engaged in a remarkable correspondence with the authorities after preventing a mutiny on board the ship carrying him to America. Following his early return from transportation, his membership in Burnworth's gang attracted notoriety, but it soon led to his demise.

Early Life

William Blewit was born around 1700 in St Giles Cripplegate,1 the son of a porter. His mother, at the time of his execution, was selling herbs in the same parish. Being poor, his parents could not provide for him, so the parish assigned him to a perfumer of gloves.

At a young age he became involved with a gang of pick-pockets,2 and in 1717 he was accused of jostling a man and stealing children's clothes from his person. He was found guilty and sentenced to whipping. Five years later he was found guilty of stealing a silk handkerchief from a man's pocket. This time he was transported.

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Transportation (and Return)

Blewit boarded the ship Alexander on 2 July 1722 under the command of John Graham, which was heading for Nevis and Jamaica.3 According to a letter written by Blewit dated 17 October 1723 to Charles Delafaye, secretary to the Lords Justices,4 Blewit prevented a mutiny. The other prisoners on board the ship rose up, secured the Captain below and would have done the same to the crew, had not he, Blewit, assisted the crew in overcoming the transports, thereby saving the crew and cargo. The grateful Captain granted him his freedom and set him ashore on the island of Nevis.5

Blewit returned to England where he was arrested and tried for returning from transportation before the expiry of his sentence. He was found guilty, and sentenced to death. Blewit had called Jonathan Forward, who had been granted an exclusive government contract to oversee convict transportation,6 as a witness, who "depos'd That tho' he [Blewit] had been appointed to have his Liberty on Board of Ship, in order to assist in the Management of the Felons, yet he knew not what he said to be true, as to his preventing the Loss of Ship's crew and Cargo". The captain could not be asked, as the ship had not yet returned from Nevis. Upon an application by his friends to Lord Carteret, Blewitt was granted a reprieve on 22 June 1723 on condition of transportation for fourteen years.7 Blewit wrote to Robert Walpole on 2 Jul 1723 reminding him that he had promised to prevent him being transported again. On 22 July Temple Stanyan, clerk-in-ordinary to the privy council, wrote "I believe Wm Blewitt was reprieved from Transportation; but the Book wherein the Reprieve is enter’d is at Hanover. I don’t know what promise my Ld Carteret made to obtain his pardon; but if the Ld Justices are pleased to respite his transportation, I’ll write to Hanover about it".8

The ship Alexander arrived back after Lord Carteret had gone to Hanover, but Captain Graham swore an affidavit before Justice Treby and Sir Gerard Conyers, Lord Mayor of London, presumably confirming Blewit’s role in saving the ship’s crew and cargo. Nonetheless, the Recorder of London wrote on 20 October 1723, "As to ye case of Blewit tis as you write, & ye best way is to take no further notice of his applications & he will be gone very soon".9 However, he did not leave on the ship Rappahanock, commanded by Captain John Jones, until 14 December 1724. The ship arrived in Virginia on 3 April 1725, the Captain having died on the voyage.10

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Association with Burnworth's Gang

Blewit quickly returned to England and soon after made the acquaintance of Edward Burnworth alias Frazier. He was with Burnworth and his gang when Burnworth shot and killed Thomas Ball, who kept a gin shop in the Mint, in early February 1726. According to Burnworth, Ball fancied himself as a thief-taker, and had nearly apprehended him. On 12 February the government published "a Proclamation for the apprehension of William Blewit, Edward Burnworth, alias Frazier, Emanuel Dickenson, Thomas Berry, and four others, unknown, being the persons concern’d in the Murther of Thomas Ball in Southwark".11 Blewit, Dickinson and Berry took a packet boat to Holland to lay low for a while. However Mr Finch, the British minister in the Hague, received information from Rotterdam,

that some men were arrived there from England, whom no body knew nor could give any Account of, and were therefore suspected: Whereupon, having before received the King’s Proclamation of the 12th Instant, he sent three Persons from hence, with Directions to enquire about them, and with an Order (in Case they answer’d the Description of the Criminals mention’d in the Proclamation) to apply to the Magistracy for their being seiz’d.

The three fugitives were apprehended at Rotterdam. Finch then applied to the Dutch Government for permission to return them to England.12 Blewit, Berry and Dickinson were brought from Rotterdam to England on board the Delight Sloop. According to a press report,

They were received at the Nore by three of his majesty’s messengers, and were Hand-cuff’d and doubly iron’d, and had a Guard of 12 Dutch Soldiers besides: They seem harden’d in Wickedness to a surprising degree, and put on an Air of Indifferency, and even of Mirth: Seeing a Press gang at St Katherine’s, they jocularly call’d out to them to put out and impress them for his majesty’s Service.13

They were taken to Westminster, examined by two Justices of the Peace, and committed to Newgate Prison, where they were placed in the cells for condemned criminals. Between six and seven in the morning of Wednesday 30 March 1726 Blewet, Berry, and Dickenson, together with Burnworth, John Legee, and John Higgs, "were put into an open Country Waggon, hand-cuffed to each other, and fastened to the Waggon; being all cleanly dress’d, and each a white Pair of Gloves on; and were convey’d in that Manner from Newgate to Kingston, [in Surrey] under a strong Party of the Horse Grenadier Guards". There, they were to be tried at the assizes which were due to begin on that day. Having become notorious, and knowing how to play to the crowd, they set off from Newgate with

the Drums beating a March, and a Horn blowing before for the Way to be cleared. The Calvalcade was made up Holbourn, through Monmouth Street and Piccadilly; where, ‘tis said, some very great Persons were incog. [incognito] to have a View of them. At their being first put into the Waggon at Newgate, they drank and were very merrily disposed, giving several loud Shouts, and commanded the Mob to do the same, that the Respect due to their Quality might not be wanting.14

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Trial and Execution

At the trial William Marjoram, one of the members of the gang commonly called Huggedie, was the principal evidence. He deposed that, at the instigation of Burnworth, the prisoners, together with himself, had decided to murder Thomas Ball because he had caused one of their companions, Christopher Leonard, to be apprehended, and was also in pursuit of Burnworth. He said the gang took a boat across the Thames from Blackfriars Stairs, and went to Jewell’s Musick House in St George’s Fields. Here they danced with some women until between six and seven o'clock in the evening. They then proceeded to Thomas Ball’s, which was nearby, where Blewit, Burnworth and Dickenson entered the house while the rest stood at the door. Ball said to Blewit, "he hop’d he designed him no harm, for that he never meant him any. To which Will. Blewit answer’d with an Oath, That he would put it out of his Power so to do: Burnworth at the same Time taking Mr. Ball by the Left hand, and lifting up his Arm, shot him at the Left Pap through the Heart". A number of people had assembled in the street, so Blewit fired a pistol to disperse them, and the gang made their escape.15 All six were found guilty of murder on 1 April.

The Daily Post reported Blewit’s execution, and that of his companions.

Yesterday soon after 11 o’Clock in the Morning, the six notorious Malefactors condemn’d at Kingston Assizes, for the barbarous Murther of Mr Thomas Ball, were executed near the said Town, pursuant to their Sentence, viz. William Blewit, Edward Bunworth, alias Frazier, Emanuel Dickenson, Thomas Berry, John Legee and John Higgs: They were guarded from the Goal to the Place of Execution by the Sheriffs officers, as usual, and withal, by a Party of about thirty Foot Soldiers, who were posted by the Sheriff’s Order (which they were to obey) round the Gallows with their Pieces loaded, and Bayonets fix’d to them. ‘Tis thought there were ten Thousand Spectators present, they behaved as to outward Appearance with more Penitence than at their Trial and Condemnation, but Burnworth continued more obdurate than the rest. We hear that the Murtherers are to be hang’d in Chains, two and two together in different Places.16

Burnworth and Blewit were hung in chains by the sign of the Fighting Cocks in St George’s Fields.17

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External Sources

  • Family Search.
  • London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), CLA/047/LJ/18/019, Landing Certificate no. 18.
  • The National Archives (TNA), SP 35/43/152, 35/44/3, 35/44/77, 35/45/98, 35/45/105, 44/84 f.285.
  • Daily Post, Wednesday, February 16, 1726, issue 1996; Thursday, April 7, 1726, issue 2039.
  • Evening Post, Saturday, February 26, 1726, issue 2590.
  • Parker's Penny Post, Friday, March 25, 1726, issue 141; Monday, April 4, 1726, issue 145.
  • Weekly Journal or British Gazetteer, Saturday, April 2, 1726, issue 49.
  • The Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals. 1735, vol. 1, pp. 143-183.
  • Kaminkow, Marion J. and Jack. Original Lists of Emigrants in Bondage from London to America 1719-44. 1967.


1 Family Search, accessed 31 December 2009. There were two William Blewits born in St Giles Cripplegate, London at about the right time, one on 3 January 1697 to Richard and Wilmot Blewit, and another on 10 July 1702 to William and Susan Blewet.

2 The Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals (1735), i, pp. 143-183.

3 Marion J. and Jack Kaminkow, Original Lists of Emigrants in Bondage from London to America 1719-44 (1967).

4 Between 1719 and 1727 Delafaye was called upon to act as secretary to the lords justices of England during the absence of the king in Hanover: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [requires subscription], Delafaye, Charles (1677-1762) public servant by J.C. Sainty, accessed 26 May 2009.

5 The National Archives (TNA), SP 35/45/98.

6 Early American Crime, accessed 29 December 2009.

7 TNA, SP 35/43/152; SP 44/84 f.285.

8 TNA, SP 35/44/3; SP 35/44/77.

9 TNA, SP 35/45/98; SP 35/45/105.

10 Kaminkow, Original Lists of Emigrants; London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), CLA/047/LJ/18/019, Landing Certificate no. 18.

11 Daily Post, Wednesday, February 16, 1726, issue 1996.

12 Evening Post, Saturday, February 26, 1726, issue 2590.

13 Parker's Penny Post, Friday, March 25, 1726, issue 141.

14 Weekly Journal or British Gazetteer, Saturday, April 2, 1726, issue 49.

15 Parker's Penny Post, Monday, April 4, 1726, issue 145. The newspaper appears to have been mistaken in citing Leonard's arrest as a factor in the murder of Thomas Ball, as Leonard was not arrested until the day after the murder: TNA, SP 35/61/13.

16 Daily Post, Thursday, April 7, 1726, issue 2039.

17 Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals, p.183.

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About this Biography

Created by

Mary Clayton 

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